When the Wolves inked Cole Aldrich to a 3-year, $22 million contract last June, it gave the well-traveled center more than a sense of security, it brought him home. The 2007 Bloomington Jefferson graduate had been on basketball odyssey since being a first round pick by Oklahoma City in 2010.
After splitting his rookie season with the Thunder and the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers, Aldrich was shipped along with James Harden to Houston in October 2012. The following February, he was dealt to Sacramento in a 6-player trade. From there it was one-year contracts; 2 years in New York with the Knicks and one in Los Angeles with the Clippers before joining the Wolves.
Aldrich and I chatted about his season and career earlier this week.
DZ: You are playing at home for the first time this year. What has that experience been like? What is the best part of playing in your hometown city?
ALDRICH: It’s awesome. When I first signed, I was in Italy and I talked to Thibs and all of them. My agent was like, “Hey, here’s the deal if you want to come home.” I kind of took a step back away from being super excited to come home because the season is tough and you never know what coming home would be like. It was seeing kind of what we have – the pieces – and how good we could be. That’s what really got me excited…Karl, Andrew and Zach. Being at home was kind of that cherry on top. Everything just kind of came through. I’ve loved it so far.
DZ: Is there any downside to being at home? Being around all the people you know. Getting more attention.
ALDRICH: It’s tough to see people. Playing every other day and everybody works during the week. We don’t have any specific days that were are like, “Here’s off. We are gonna go to dinner.” Not having what normal people we have, the weekend’s off. We play all the weekends, all that. It’s always tough to get stuff on the schedule with people, but it’s been fun. That’s probably the toughest thing, trying to see everybody…but that’s what the summer is for.
DZ: You got the 3-year contract, which had to be big after bouncing around a little bit. What did that mean for you?
ALDRICH: It was great. I got through my rookie deal and then I was on an unguaranteed (contract) in New York. Got through that year, resigned a fully guaranteed, veteran minimum (contract) in New York. After that year, I thought I was going to be in Detroit, but they ended up choosing Aron Baynes. I’ve been on a one-year deal for the last four years. So to have a little bit of security maybe, in a sense, knowing that every summer, that stress wasn’t always going to be there. Free agency is stressful. I don’t know why some people say they can’t wait to be a free agent, but it’s stressful.
DZ: Kind of over it for now?
ALDRICH: Yes, yes.
DZ: What about your role on the team. It seems like it’s still kind of evolving.
ALDRICH: I think our second unit is kind of continuing to find what we are really good at. With Shabazz (Muhammad), being on the second unit, we have a lot of scoring. With Kris (Dunn) and myself, two defenders. Belly’s (Nemanja Bjelica) been a great shooter. We are all just kind of trying to figure everything out. Some of that is having a new coach and all being new, but we’ve had some really good nights.
DZ: When you are not getting as much playing time, how important is practice time?
ALDRICH: I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career. Last year, when I was in LA, I didn’t play the first 25 games. It’s just staying in my routine, making sure that I am in shape. Making sure that I continue to work on the stuff I need to work on, so when my name is called, I can go out there and produce.
DZ: You mentioned you bounced around a little bit, what was the biggest challenge…?
ALDRICH: My third year was probably the toughest. I got traded twice. I was on four teams in a full calendar year. I got traded from Oklahoma City to Houston right after training camp. Spent a little time in Houston and got traded to Sacramento to end the season. Then I went to camp in New York. That year was tough. Then you add that on top of getting married and buying a home. Had a lot of stresses. But, you look back at it, and we had an unbelievable time, my wife and I. Just kind of seeing each city and teams. I have to enjoy to the process.
DZ: I think a lot people forget how young of guys you are when you come up…
ALDRICH: Yeah, I was 23 at the time. It was tough. Going from city to city and thinking you may not be in the league again with an unguaranteed deal in New York. You just kind of fight through it and believe in what you do and the work that you put in.
DZ: You played in New York and LA the past couple of years. How much different is it playing in a city like that versus a city like Minneapolis?
ALDRICH: Completely different (laughs). New York, the fans out there are great. My second year in New York, we were 17-65. We weren’t a very good team. Every night, the Garden was sold out. They would let us know that we weren’t playing very well (laughs), but it was always sold out, so that made it fun. LA, last year, was great. We were winning, we sold out every night. We had Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin – these big names. And every arena that you went into on the road was pretty much sold out. They wanted to see us as a team and see those guys.
DZ: You mentioned Blake and Chris Paul. You also played with KD, Westbrook, Harden and Melo. A lot of really great players. Is there anything you can see in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins that translates to those guys?
ALDRICH: I think it’s their work ethic. When I was at Oklahoma City, with KD and Russell. I would get to the gym at 8:30 for practice at 11:00 and those guys would be on the court already. Just the time that they put in to getting better made them who they are now. They are both in the MVP race with James Harden. Three guys that I played with, probably one of the three is going to get (the MVP).
DZ: The trading deadline is next week…do you get nervous at all when you see your phone ring on that day?
ALDRICH: Not as much anymore, as I have gotten older. When I was younger and got traded from Oklahoma City to Houston, I didn’t have any idea that I was going to get traded, was never a thought. I got a phone call Saturday night. I was playing X Box, my wife was back up at school for homecoming with some of her girlfriends. I got the call and they said, “Hey, you are heading to Houston.” I am trying to call my wife, get a hold of her. I am calling her girlfriends she was with and finally, she answers the phone and she is like, “Hey, what’s up?” I was dead silent. She was like, “Where are we going?” I was like, “We are going to Houston.” It was all good. I think after you get through that first time you get traded (it’s a lot easier).
DZ: Is it hard not to take it personally that first time?
ALDRICH: Yes and no. I see why guys take it personal. For instance, Kendrick Perkins was in Boston for seven or eight years and then he got traded to Oklahoma City. He spent so much time with that organization and they just trade you. Sometimes you forget, it’s kind of the business of it. It happens.